Days before Departure:
The process of planning and packing for an international journey was such an intricate task that I found myself constantly ruminating during the month leading up to departure.
My imminent trip to Japan was something that I could physically prepare for—in the form of a thicket of yen bills that I organized by sorting different bills with different colored paperclips, downloading a currency converter, and taking a look at exchange rates. It was akin to spiraling into a real life application of an International Money Markets class I’d taken a semester ago.
I was preoccupied with the fact that I would be in Japan during both the rainy season and the dry season, so I made sure to pack navy and white rain boots, a raincoat, and a poncho, which, when juxtaposed against the amount of dresses and sarongs I’d packed, gave off the impression that I was going to some sort of tropical country with extremely volatile climate patterns.
Next, I tried unsuccessfully to sleep with the Beginner Japanese lessons running through my Amazon Echo overnight; but I woke up with completely arbitrary sentences in my head instead of what I ideally should have been thinking, which was “Ohayo Gozaimasu” (good morning). However, since the Japanese language was structurally similar to my native language, Tamil, I was easily able to pronounce the words, despite not being able to read or write. Overall, preparing with tangibles was the easy part. The not-so-easy part would be the mental preparation for the trip.
There were some implicit aspects about studying abroad that I was forced to confront, some uncomfortable truths and opportunities for self growth. First off, I always had my parents at arms length whenever I was in trouble. I was responsible enough, but there was always a buffer in case I faltered. In Tokyo, I was going to be my own woman. I had to be meticulous and keenly self aware because nobody would be calling after me. It felt like I was at the top of the ladder of an extremely familiar swimming pool, but the pool below, and the height at which I’d dive in, were dizzying and alien. I shut my suitcase with resolve. Either way, I was going. As I entered the airport, an ominous voice in my head offered helpfully, “Yo Sruthi, you’re on your own ” in an extremely flippant and vaguely condescending way.
One can read a lot about other people’s experiences in Tokyo, but it’s always a distant, underwater effect, the experiential disconnect that comes from reconciling your preconceived notions about a place to someone else’s, and then to eventually to your actual experience. In this sense, I was unprepared. At multiple points, I wondered about the opportunity cost of what I would miss back home, but for some reason I could never do a cost-benefit analysis about my urge to go to Tokyo. It was just intuitive, a near palpable urge to go, despite having to sacrifice two months of working at my internship, meeting up with my friends from the University of Illinois, and the general comfort of being home in downtown Chicago.
What I would gain here in Tokyo, at this very moment, at this age, could never be re-lived. It was a crucial point where I was malleable, and perhaps stagnant, the time was ripe.